Ours is a truly historic county, and our heritage entices visitors from across the country.
The Mappa Mundi and Chained Library, Hereford Cathedral and its beautiful close, the Old House and Hereford Museum and Art Gallery: these are all great attractions that locals and visitors alike treasure.
I was delighted to chair a recent discussion about the future of the Museums and Archives Services in Herefordshire, who do so much to promote and protect our local history. They are responsible for the Museum Resource and Learning Centre and the Museum on the Move, as well as the Old House and Museum.
The long queue of people snaking around Friar Street that Friday evening demonstrated the importance that Herefordians place on these services.
Their benefits are not only cultural – heritage plays a important role in our local economy. Research undertaken by the local Museum Development Officers shows that each museum employee is worth £568K to the county economy, and the 33 heritage attractions in Herefordshire bring £18,745,803 of tourism value to local businesses.
Additionally, the Economic Impact Assessment carried out in 2013 showed that for every £1 spent on museums from the Council budget, over £8 was generated in the local economy.
But the cost of running heritage services is significant. As we know, Herefordshire Council faces continuing financial pressure for some years to come, and is being forced to adjust its budgets accordingly.
The Council is hoping to save £500,000 from their museum budget over the next two years.
This issue is quite distinct from the future of our library services.
In both cases creative solutions are needed. Some very interesting suggestions were put forward at the meeting, including:
- A complete remodelling of the Museum and Art Gallery on Broad Street
- Digitising records to reach a larger audience online, and making good quality prints of documents available for purchase
- Joining with local further and higher education institutions to work together on projects, and with services in other counties
- Extending the tourist services at the Old House to make it a tourist hub where people can find out about the city.
- Increasing the range of ‘Made in Herefordshire’ arts and crafts in a new shop
These ideas are a great start. But we need more collective action and positive thinking to secure the future of the Museums and Archives Service, and to shape an exciting future for heritage in Herefordshire.